But in recent years I've been trying to catch up with all the contemporary history I'd let pass me by. And so, here are some tidbits I picked up out of From Washington to Moscow: US-Soviet Relations and the Collapse of the USSR by Louis Sell. Sell is a retired Foreign Service officer who served twenty-seven years with the US Department of State, including several stints in Moscow during which he dealt directly with both the top ranks of the Soviet state and also with anti-Soviet dissidents. He seems to like and empathize with many Russians. And his book is designed to answer what seems to me still the necessary question about contemporary Russia: how could the mighty Soviet Union have simply disappeared?
Here are a few points that leaped out at me:
People in this country are conditioned to assume that governments "derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." (Declaration of Independence) Of course lots of governments actually derive their powers from their monopoly on the means of coercion; still the US notion has demonstrated considerable stability and efficacy which the old Soviet Union proved to lack.
Sell is sympathetic to Russian revulsion with what came after.
There's a generalization in that last assertion that I don't feel competent to evaluate; let's ask ourselves, do we "identify our own personal status and wellbeing with the power of our state"? It occurs to me that the segment of the country which is attracted by the unpresidential Tangerine's nationalism might indeed feel that way, while many of us don't.
Sell is critical of how the US responded to the unexpected break up of the Soviet system and empire.
That certainly seems evident today as Putin tries to re-establish a cut-rate empire and people in the US find ourselves unable to fathom the motives and intent of our Russophiliac Tangerine. What is happening here?
Masha Gessen on Putin
Stephen F. Cohen on hinge moments in Russian history
Peter Pomerantzsev on Putin's nightmare state